Let’s Not Forget Miss Ailie (Alison Sullivan) Cullen, Who Died in November 1955

An obituary on page five of The Glasgow Herald, on Tuesday the 8th of November, 1955, reads:


Death of Miss Ailie Cullen


Miss Ailie Cullen, the eminent Scottish pianist and accompanist, died yesterday in Glasgow.


Our Music Critic writes:-


Ailie Cullen was born and brought up in a musical environment. Her father, a headmaster in

Paisley and active as a church organist, pioneered and encouraged the use of staff notation in

schools. Her sister, Jenny, distinguished herself as a violinist here and in New South Wales

and Minneapolis before settling at the University of Minnesota.


Under her father’s tuition – apart from a few months with Philip Halstead he was her only

teacher – Ailie Cullen made remarkable progress, accompanying her sister on a recital tour

of Scotland at the age of 12, when she was considered too young to accept the offer of

scholarships to London.




Study in Verbrugghen’s chamber music class in the old Glasgow Athenaeum fostered a

lifelong love of that art and led to her appearances between the wars with the Catterall,

Rose, and other outstanding quartets. The organ, too, claimed a place in her affections.

She was organist of St Gilbert’s at the age 14, later of Trinity for some 18 years, and a

familiar figure at the annual New Year’s Day performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ in St

Andrew’s Halls.


But accompanying – for which she had a special affection and a very special gift –  became

more and more her life’s work, a labour of love that made her name a household word in

musical circles throughout Scotland and earned her that rare distinction for an accompanist,

the award of the Honorary Degree of LL.D. of St Andrews University barely a month ago.


In that capacity she supported innumerable outstanding singers and instrumentalists –

many of whom became her close friends – at the concerts of the Scottish National Orchestra

and the Glasgow, Milngavie, Paisley, and other chamber music societies and elsewhere. She

was specially interested in the festival music movement and associated in particular with the

Glasgow Musical Festival Society, where her counsel behind the scenes was as invaluable as

her practical encouragement of competitors, young and old, on the platform.


Her quiet manner cloaked a keen awareness of events, a sense of humour, and a warm humanity.

Her sudden death leaves a tremendous gap in Scotland’s musical life.”



The obituary includes a photograph of Ailie Cullen, and the notice of her death is on the front page of

the Herald. It provides her names, Alison Somerville, and notes that she died at 7 Newton Place, Glasgow,

on Monday the 7th. Her Glasgow address was 18 Newton Street.


For further information about the Glasgow Music Festival’s Ailie Cullen Memorial Prize, please see the

Festival’s website https://glasgowmusicfestival.org



George Fairfull-Smith, May 2022.